Cries Against War Sparse But Fierce

Hundreds of antiwar demonstrators this morning tried to stop workers from entering federal government buildings, sat down in busy streets to block traffic, and staged a "March of the Dead" parade to protest five years of fighting in Iraq.
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008

There was a brass band of protesters dressed in green. There was a woman in a pink bed being pushed through busy downtown D.C. intersections. There were demonstrators in black who lay down in the middle of the street.

But in the end, there weren't that many of them, and yesterday's 12-hour protest of the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war created only minor disruptions across Washington and appeared to have been among the smallest such demonstrations in the city since the war began.

Fewer than 1,000 people participated, according to rough head counts from the various events.

The Federal Protective Service arrested 32 people at the Internal Revenue Service building, charging them with attempting to enter a federal installation without proper documentation and blocking entry. D.C. police said they arrested one person for crossing a police line, but officers seemed to go out of their way to avoid arresting people, at one point routing traffic around a knot of activists camped on L Street.

"It's nothing we want to do," said Capt. Jeffrey Herold of the special operations division. "As long as I can keep traffic moving around them, we don't want to take action like that."

Organizers downplayed the low turnout. "This is a different type of action than the peace movement has done before," said Ted Glick of the No War, No Warming Coalition. "It's more edgy. . . . We think this is actually an important step forward for the peace and justice movement."

But demonstrator Gary Krane, of Oakland, Calif., expressed dismay.

"The apathy of my fellow Americans is very frightening, very horrific," he said. "I thought there would be hundreds if not thousands of people getting arrested."

There were a few incidences of vandalism. Demonstrators threw rocks and bottles filled with red paint that splattered outside a military recruiting center on L street and at the 15th Street offices of Bechtel, a U.S.-based company that has done contract work in Iraq.

The protest, which was dampened by rain in the afternoon, made up for scant numbers with energy, mobility and noise.

Augmented by the drums and brass of the social justice-oriented Rude Mechanical Orchestra and the activities of the antiwar group Code Pink, with its rolling four-poster bed decorated with placards reading "Wake Up America," bands of demonstrators roved across downtown Washington from sunrise until dusk.

They targeted the IRS building at 8 a.m., at 12th Street and Constitution Avenue, blaming the agency for its role in funding the war. They hoped to shut it down.

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